Hitting Home: Floodwaters Force Relocations in Several States

This post was written by NWF Climate Science Assistant Renee Curry

Evacuations in Dakota Dunes, SD (via David Curry)

I grew up in Elk Point, South Dakota, not far from the Missouri River. As major flooding events continue on the northern central Plains, my parents, other family members, and friends have been working non-stop the last few days to help evacuate people in neighboring towns now threatened by the rising river. My parents are even hosting two evacuees from the town of Dakota Dunes in the house where I was raised, forced from their own homes and officials say they may not be able to return for two months.

It’s jarring to read news coverage of the flooding threats and find a family friend interviewed by a local TV station. As I was keeping up to date with the latest updates on the flood, I saw our friend Lisa Leopold telling KTIV in Iowa’s Sioux City, “We want to save our stuff. Not that the stuff means anything, at least we have our health, but we need to clear it out.” When I called my dad to tell him about the interview, he was still at the Leopold’s home lending a helping hand.

A combination of heavy rains and above-average snow melt in the upper Missouri River Basin in eastern Montana and western North Dakota is resulting in significant flooding along parts of the Missouri River in the state of South Dakota and into parts of the Nebraska and Iowa.  The high water levels are requiring historic reservoir releases from six major dams along the Missouri River, including Gavin’s Point Dam in Yankton, SD, just upstream from Dakota Dunes:

Water is already surging at all six of the dams along the river, breaking records at each one. According to Grode, runoff waters are highest at Gavins Point, located near Yankton, S.D. The flow there reached 10.5 million acre-feet, breaking a previous record of 7.2 acre-feet, set in 1995.

While Grode says the dams are all “very safe,” the levee system is more vulnerable – and will likely be stressed throughout the year, he warns. Tributary systems that feed into the Missouri River are also expected to flood.

A levee breach near Hamburg, Iowa, on Sunday resulted in a mandatory evacuation of residents. Corps officials have not yet determined what caused the breach. The National Guard dropped 22 thousand-pound sandbags on the levee, as an emergency measure to keep the water from flowing through the breach. Flooding will stretch two miles inland, officials predict.

Rising river levels have resulted in sandbagging efforts and road closures in virtually every state bordering the river. In Fort Calhoun, Neb., about 20 miles north of Omaha, a nuclear power plant declared an emergency and shut down. The Omaha Public Power District, which operates the plant, said it does not expect any release of radioactive material.

This year has certainly been one full of extreme weather including deadly tornado outbreaks such as tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri and Alabama, as well as major flooding along the Mississippi River.  This trend of extreme weather is projected to continue given that experts are forecasting an active hurricane season.

As our global temperatures continue to rise at a rapid rate in response to man-made climate change, more extreme weather events like the floods we have seen and will continue to see this year will be more commonplace. Learn more at NWF.org/ExtremeWeather.

This particular flood of the Missouri for me hits too close to home. Given my love for meteorology, my family, and friends, I wish that I could be back at home to help out.